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Sri Lanka drafting bill to curb growing incidents of religious slander on social media

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COLOMBO, May 29 (PTI): Sri Lanka is drafting a new legislation to curb the growing incidents of religious slander and online vitriol, according to the country’s religious affairs minister.

The move comes after a stand-up comedian Nathasha Edirisooriya allegedly made certain derogatory remarks on religions, which she uploaded online.

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Edirisooriya offered an apology, but a complaint was filed and she was taken into custody on Sunday while trying to fly out of the country.

Sri Lanka’s Minister of Buddhashasana, Religious, and Cultural Affairs Vidura Wickramanayaka on Sunday said a legislation would soon be passed to curb the growing incidents of religious slander in the country.

“This will stop all incidents of demeaning religion on social media,” he asserted.

The controversy surrounding Edirisooriya’s comments is not a one-off incident.

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Earlier this month, Pastor Jerome Fernando, a self-styled Godman, was accused of derogatory comments on Lord Buddha, which went viral on social media.

On May 15, President Ranil Wickremesinghe ordered the Criminal Investigation Department to launch an immediate investigation into the matter, arguing that such statements could create religious conflicts in the country.

Like Edirisooriya, Fernando also offered an apology.

He has, however, fled to Singapore and filed a fundamental rights petition to block his impending arrest.

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In January, a popular Youtuber Sepal Amarasinghe was sent to police custody for making disparaging comments on the Sacred Tooth relic of Lord Buddha.

The Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic is a Buddhist temple in Kandy.

It is located in the royal palace complex of the former Kingdom of Kandy, which houses the relic of the tooth of the Buddha.

The arrest came after parliamentarians across the aisle unanimously condemned Amarasinghe’s comments on his YouTube channel.

Amarasinghe’s YouTube channel has nearly 80,000 subscribers and the outspoken man is well-known on social media for his unorthodox views that challenge what he claims are parochial traditions and customs.

Over 74 per cent of Sri Lanka’s 22 million population are Buddhists.  Sri Lanka’s Constitution accords Buddhism as the “foremost place” among the country’s religious faiths and commits the government to protecting it, while also respecting the rights of other religious minorities.

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